Darkside's Dave Harrington Always Keeps Improvisation Paramount

Part humid, steamed electronics, part Krautrock, part jazz and blues, and existing as something that can only come from the minds of Dave Harrington and Nicholas Jaar, their project as Darkside has produced some of the most sonically interesting and distinct music of the past few years.

“It all happened gradually and naturally,” Dave Harrington says when speaking of the groups origins.


Harrington first met Nico through mutual friend Will Epstein. At the time, Nico was looking to put together a live band a couple years ago to tour after he put out his Space is Only Noise record. “We met in the context of music and me playing in his band and then we started to have these other ideas and one day we made a song. Then, we made a few more, and then we played a show and it just kind of kept growing that way,” Harrington says, reflecting back on his beginnings with Jaar.

Before his tenure as one of Jaar's collaborators and as the other half of Darkside, Harrington led a life and had an upbringing that put emphasis on the kind of jazzy improvisation Darkside and Harrington's music is centered on. Growing up, Harrington took lessons on several instruments ranging from piano to bass, and there was always a push in the free-form direction jazz promoted. His teachers were jazz musicians, and jazz was the main form of music that permeated the environment he lived in.

“I grew up in a household where jazz was on all the time, and my dad had an amazing record collection, he had all these original jazz vinyl pressings from the '60s and '70s. That was always something in my world, in my house, in my life,” he says.

By the time his adolescence was in its twilight Harrington was already serious about music, and though he went on to study philosophy and film in college, by his own admission even that was studied in hopes it would lead to learning to make better music.

“I just always kept playing music and then eventually it turned into a career. When I went to university I played music, I took lessons, but I didn't get a degree in music. It's hard to describe, it's just kind of a gravitational pull that's brought me to the present moment. It's what I love doing; I get up in the morning and it's what happens,” he explains.

Now, Harrington gets up and goes out at night to perform alongside Jaar as part of Darkside's current national tour in support of their generally acclaimed debut album Psychic. Being able to perform as Darkside night after night is now a source of inspiration for Harrington, who sees live performance as the pinnacle of the musical experience for him.

“By trade I'm an improviser. I grew up playing jazz, and for me music was always a live thing that was about improvising. For me, playing a gig is what it's all about,” he says.

Every show Harrington and Jaar play is something they approach differently, and they attempt to deliver a wholly new and fresh experience to their audience every night. “What we do live is never the same, every night is different,” Harrington remarks. “Maybe we'll play the same songs, but the way we play them is different. Trying these new tactics live is always really exciting.”

The encounter of going on stage and performing for a packed venue far removed from his own Bushwick apartment serves as a muse for Harrington, and it's part of what continues to push him as an artist and as part of Darkside onward.

“What's influencing me is more looking inward, looking into our own music and trying to see how it can connect to the audiences we're playing for and what people respond to, and how it feels to hear the notes in these big rooms,” Harrington says. “It's the actual playing we're doing every night right now that's really influencing me.”

Harrington sees every new night on the road as a new canvas to play with and gain something from, and what Darkside is quintessentially about.

“Things could fall apart, something magical could happen, or everything could go to hell and for us that's exciting and hopefully that translates when people come go see us.”

It's the act of performing as part of Darkside that continues to motivate the jazz-minded Harrington to pick up his guitar and do what he feels he is inclined to do.

“We can just go wherever want to sonically and musically; it's the improvisation thing. For me, that's what makes it something I want to do every night, something that I'm not going to get tired of doing, because it's what I love to do — improvise.”

Darkside perform on Sunday, January 26 at the Observatory. For full details, click here.

See also:
10 Jazz Albums to Listen to Before You Die
25 Greatest Orange County Bands of All Time
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